England World Cup Hopes Rest on Younger Shoulders

Joe Hart
Joe Hart
England goaltender Joe Hart Joe Camporeale USA TODAY Sports

For a long time, fans of England could rattle off a few well-known players and name the standard English team. It seemed that each time a new young player broke into the lineup, they would quickly fade away.

Roy Hodgson recently called up a 30-man roster for a pre-World Cup game against Denmark, bringing the English national team picture a little closer to its final product. Of these 30 players, and from a pool of players not taken, Hodgson must round out a team of 23 players, with three being goalkeepers.

The last few World Cups haven’t really offered many surprises in terms of player call ups – mainstays like John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Wayne Rooney formed an England core that has played together for several years.

This time around, England’s older core has grown a bit too old and new faces have entered the England fray. Captain Terry won’t be on the World Cup roster, replaced by his partner in Chelsea’s central defense, Gary Cahill. Cole, England’s top left fullback, will face stiff competition in the form of Everton’s Leighton Baines.  Ferdinand hasn’t featured in a while, replaced by Phil Jagielka or Joleon Lescott, or even by youngsters like Chris Smalling or Steven Caulker.

Defensively, England has usually featured fairly competent back lines, and while right fullback Glen Johnson will find his World Cup spot assured once again, the same cannot be said of goalkeepers like Robert Green, who famously – or perhaps infamously – collapsed on top of a U.S. strike and let the ball roll right past his legs for an equalizing goal.

Instead, England’s goalkeeping position will rest in the assured hands of Manchester City’s Joe Hart, and, for the first time in a long time, England fans can take comfort knowing the #1 position isn’t one with a glaring weakness.

Up top, England features the dynamic Rooney alongside Jermain Defoe, but equally competent goal scorers in Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge will back up those two experienced strikers.

Then there’s Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez, a pair of forwards who, alongside Adam Lallana (also called up to England), form the attacking trio at Southampton. They could also feature in some capacity at the World Cup, giving England a new set of offensive options up top.

It’s the midfield where England sees the biggest change, though. While Lampard and Gerrard are an established duo, Arsenal’s Jack Wilshire and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the future of the national team. Andros Townsend, Ross Barkley, and Tom Cleverley are all up-and-comers and need to step up soon; Gerrard is 33, Lampard, 35.

In truth, England hasn’t had this much potential in its younger players in quite a while. Content with keeping with the well known and well established England core, managers of old haven’t integrated younger talent into the national fold, but it’s not for a lack of trying.

England’s current roster situation benefits greatly from the added commitment from club sides like Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea, who have integrated young English talent into the senior rosters. In exchange, the next generation of English talent has started to blossom at last.

These younger players offer speed and technique that has dulled in rosters past. As England’s core aged, the players grew in familiarity and connected more on the pitch but lacked the ability to compete head-to-head with powerful teams like Germany or Spain. This was due, in part, to the lack of mobility across the pitch.

This deficiency was accentuated by players like Aaron Lennon or Ashley Young, fast on the field but lacking the consistency in talent to feature regularly. To be sure, on their day, those two footballers can play with the best of ‘em. However, England’s new crop has that added a level of consistency and reliability that makes the future of the national team just a little brighter, at least at club level.

How that translates into national team form remains to be seen, though the 2014 FIFA World Cup will be the first major test for the new England team, one built on a solid foundation of experienced pros and young stars. If England does manage to win the World Cup, it’ll be Gerrard holding the trophy, but it will be England’s younger generation that made that dream come true.

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Armen Bedakian
Armen Bedakian is a soccer writer covering every aspect of the game in Major League Soccer and around the world. I love a crunching slide tackle, but can't stand a bad offside call. Follow me on Twitter - @ArmenBedakian